It is nice here. In the shadow of a not-too-high tree there are two douars. A handsome round-faced and generous guy with a frank look in his eyes is inviting travellers to have a rest in the shade of the shelter and quench their thirst with some flavor Arabica coffee.

The Heritage Village, Al Shindagha.
Tangibility of time

This is Ibrahim, born in Yemen. A poet by birth, a wanderer by fate who has found his shelter in the old part of Dubai near The Heritage Village. He is wearing a white and a well-ironed kandura, his head is covered with a white gutrah.

The hospitable owner is always kind and cordial. He doesn’t make overtures to anybody but very respectful to everyone. If you are a clean-hearted person – you are a welcome guest and nice to see.

Before entering you have to take your shoes off and leave them outside. You enjoy bare-footed walk on the old but carefully cleaned carpet making yourself comfortable between cushions and bolsters placed around this humble dwelling.

Once inside, you leave out not just your shoes but noisy and busy Dubai gaining another Dubai which is cozy and authentic. 

Time is slowing down. It is starting floating spreading the sails of eternity.

You are immediately offered dates as a token of Arabian hospitality along with a tiny cup of strong coffee with cardamom. Savouring each sip, you are taking your time viewing striped tilt of the tent and wooden supports. The douar faces a picturesque historical area called Al Shindagha.

Hummed by fresh air to sleep you throw off accumulated tiredness giving yourself up to this simple, unsophisticated but such plain and worriless life. You feel as if you were at home. As if you found yourself at your friends' and family’s with no reason to pretend. You don’t feel like speaking for a time.

You just feel like sitting, absorbing the beauty of the moment. Right here, right now. The truth is almost tangible. Warm breath of the sea seems to be your own breathing - clean and deep. And your soul is as free as the air as if it was allowed to break out to enjoy its freedom.

And both this colorful Oriental carpet on the sand, dry thin palm fans pleached in thick trays and this heavy cast-iron teapot covered with soot - everything that seemed out-of-fashion one hour ago is being added a whole new wrinkle and seem to make sense. Right here, right now.

Local Arabians are coming up to the douar. They greet the owner in their traditional way: As-salāmu ʿalaykum! ("Peace be upon you"). The owner answers: "Waʿalaykumu s-salām!” followed by a long greeting dialog between the owner and the guests in Arabic.

It’s like a language game, a mini-performance including both some pranks and good intentions and good humor for a good day. Sometimes you may say just “Salaam!” meaning "health” upon the meeting and it will be a polite way of greeting.

You have finished your coffee giving your empty cup back to the owner. Ibrahim immediately refills it with hot coffee and gives it back to you. The guests sitting next to you are explaining that in case you don’t want more coffee you have to give your empty cup back vortexing it in your hand - it is going to be a signal that you are not thirsty any more.

The Arabs are leaving their shoes outside and having got inside, make themselves comfortable. They seem to draw into their shells: they just breathe, just live sipping the coffee offered by the owner. A little later we introduce each other:

where we are from and what we are doing in Dubai. The conversation is on process. Then it is time to have a walk: we are leaving the douar heading off to the labyrinth of the Old Town.

The Heritage Village in Al Shindagha was built 20 years ago. It reflects the life of the locals they used to have before oil-field discovery. Mud dwellings with wind towers, reed huts, stone cabins. It is a unique place. All kinds of traditional Arabic dwellings from douars up to sheikh Said’s palace, the grandfather of the current Emir of Dubai, can be seen on this not big territory.

There are a lot of museums Al Shindagha: some of them are free, some not. The House of Poetry, Camel Museum, Horse Museum, Pearl Museum.

The Old Town elongated along Dubai creek. The embankment is full of cafes – having walked you can have a seat viewing the gulf, choose fresh fish and wait for it to be grilled and served. 

Along towards evening, the lights are on. Large dou-boats are sailing along the channel decorated with lights reflecting brightly in the water. At that very time the Heritage Village is stirring to action.

Arabian women with their faces hidden under golden burqas start baking sweets. I suppose the most delicious local sweet here is Lugaimat - small balls testing like doughnuts with date syrup.

Right here in the Heritage Village elderly Ali Abdullah is making a fire, serving a fruit vase with dates and nuts, asking everybody to dinner. We are sitting cross-legged on the carpet looking at the fire and shimmering far starts filling the black sky and at the bright-yellow moon disk.

We are sharing our impressions, sometimes we are silent and this silence is so enjoyable. In the opaque light palm and stone huts contours are showing through. Arabic poets reciting is being heard in the distance. Every Friday they come here to recite their poetry.

Somewhere from the darkness our friend Ibrahim appears. We ask him to recite his own poetry. He agrees. Having a think bamboo in his hands and having his eyes half closed he starts reciting. He recites passionately reminding of Sergey Esenin, a famous Russian poet.

Male-Arabs welcome every poem approvingly and we are just listening trying to understand the meaning of the lines with our hearts. We are being translated into English. It is so beautiful and sad. 

It is getting colder but there is no any desire to leave. It is Dubai. Sort of. But it is completely different. Looking at the fire you feel as if you were entranced, disappearing in the beauty of the endless and deep Arabian night. 

Your heart beating is melting into the rhythms of the endless pulsating sky. And here you are out of Dubai, somewhere on the other side of the Universe…. 

Our friend Ali Abdullah being in his nineties picks out his smart phone and starts browsing his photos asking to send him the best shots of this evening via bluetooth. And we are doing that gladly and willingly.

The darkness is swallowing everything around us up. Ibrahim is showing us to the familiar road asking us to barbeque next Friday and we promise to buy fresh fish and shrimps on the Fish market located nearby, on the other side of the Gulf. We are saying good-by promising to come back.

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  • Cropping me
    Author and photographerVictoria Lazareva
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